TRUMBO & DENNEHY

In a previous post, BRIAN DENNEHY, I mentioned working with Dennehy when he brought his touring show, TRUMBO, to the Pantages in Minneapolis. The production was based on an off-Broadway play conceived by Christopher Trumbo, son of Dalton Trumbo, screenwriter and one of the blacklisted Hollywood Ten.

The play had two characters, Dalton Trumbo and a narrator. The script is actual letters written by Trumbo and read by the lead actor. The narrator sets it up and offers insights on a few occasions. The lead is on stage throughout. The narrator very seldom. The set is an eight sided wooden table and a chair. The props are copies of actual letters written by Trumbo.

Originally Trumbo was played by Nathan Lane. When Lane left Trumbo was played by a rotating cast including, F. Murray Abraham,(Oscar winner in Amadeus and a favorite of mine from his season at the Guthrie), Brian Dennehy, Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Durning, Christopher Lloyd and others.

There is a documentary, Trumbo, that is similar to the play. There is also a conventional movie, Trumbo, with an all star cast staring Bryan Cranston 4 time Emmy Winner for Breaking Bad, and Tony winner for LBJ. Cranston received an Oscar nomation for Trumbo.

Dalton Trumbo was a high paid Hollywood screenwriter and a respected novel writer. His quick wit and his warmth showed in his work…And his letters.

Like many in the Depression Years, he was a member of the US Communist Party. An anti-war pacifist he sided, in theory only, with the Communists against the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War and in the party’s ideas concerning getting out of the Depression which basically were F.D.R.’s actions that helped to end the Depression.

Eventually he dropped out of the party because of their lack of really doing anything. He stated that the U.S. Communist Party was less of a danger than the Elks, and they had less guns also.

Leading up to WWII, he thought the Russian-Germany Peace Concord would stave off Germany’s aggression. He was an isolationist because he was pro peace, unlike other isolationists like Charles Lindberg who admired the German industrial advances and German efficiency under Hitler.

And then he ran into HUAC….

Dalton Trumbo was not brought before HUAC because of his past Communist affiliations. He was brought after he did a patriotic act.

In 1939,he wrote a novel, Johnny Got His Gun, an anti-war story of a soldier who lost his four limbs in war. It was well received and won several awards. However, I in 1941,when Hitler broke the pact with Russia and invaded it, Trumbo and his publisher felt it was not a time for an anti-war novel and stopped publishing any more.

This caused hate mail to be sent to Trumbo. The writers denounced Jews and demanded that a peace pact be negotiated between the U.S. and Nazi Germany. Trumbo contacted the FBI. Two agents came to his house, but Trumbo soon regretted his actions; because as he wrote, ‘their interest lay not in the letters but in me.’

Then in 1946, he wrote a magazine article from the standpoint of a Russian citizen. He pointed out that the ordinary Russians should be worried about the West’s animosity towards the USSR, and the ‘mass of Western military power surrounding Russia. Something should be done to lessen the hostilities between the East and the West.

This set off a column by William Wilkerson, publisher of The Hollywood Reporter. The title was ‘A Vote for Joe Stalin’ and it named Trumbo and several others as Red sympathizers. He continued to dig up more names and his list became known as Billy’s Blacklist. In 1947, HUAC used the list to summon Trumbo and nine others to appear before it.

The Hollywood Ten, as they were called by the media, refused to recant and name names like the others had done. They also refused to take the 5th Amendment, refusing to testify on the grounds it may incriminate them. This defense became a household phrased in 1950 because of the televised Senate Hearings on organized crime. Instead they depended on the right of free speech guaranteed by the 1st Amendment.

Their reasoning was they had done nothing criminal, which they hadn’t, and therefore to recant would suggest that they had committed a crime by belonging to a ‘Red organization’. As far as naming names like so many others had done, the Ten refused on the grounds that they knew of no one that had committed a crime that tied in with the belonging to a ‘Red Organization’ and questioned if HUAC had any right to suppena them.

Writer-producer, James McGuinness, a right-winger who was regarded as a friendly witness pointed out to the committee that among his many fine screenplays, Dalton Trumbo had written two magnificent patriotic scripts, A Guy Names Joe, and 30 Seconds Over Tokyo. HUAC wasn’t interested. And they weren’t interested in what Trumbo was doing during WWII.

When the US went to war, Trumbo was one of the top screenwriters in Hollywood. He had nothing to fear about being drafted. A married man with children and of an age that was above the draft regulations. Actually, he was two years older than John Wayne. He could have stayed put and continued to write movie scripts. He could have enlisted and probably would have been assigned to writing propaganda or training films. But instead he used his talent and his name to become a war correspondent in the Pacific Theater. Quite a cut in pay and much different working conditions.

When the Allies invaded Okinawa, the longest and bloodiest battle of WWII, Dalton Trumbo, armed with a pencil and writing pad, stormed ashore with the troops. He was under fire constantly for the next 82 days. He sent back dispatches. He wrote letters to the parents of his fallen comrades.

Among the 12,000+ Americans killed in Okinawa, was fellow war correspondent, Ernie Pyle, the most of famous of the WWII correspondents.

But HUAC wasn’t interested in what he had done during the war anymore than they cared about what Sterling Hayden had done.

When Trumbo was sentenced to a year in prison for Contempt of Congress. He appealed but before it reached the Supreme Court, two liberal members of the Court died and two conservatives were appointed. The conservative majority of the new Court voted not to hear the appeal and thus the ruling of guilty by the lower court stood.

After his release, he moved his family to Mexico City where for a year he and other members of the Ten drank and wrestled and used up their savings.

The Trumbo family went back to California where Dalton did what he was best at, namely writing screen plays. He wrote at least thirty using the names of friends as a front. He was adept writing screen plays for all genres, drama, action, crime, noir, western. He wrote for major studies and studios that never got past B movies.

Despite the cloud of the Black List over Hollywood, 1953 was a good year for movies. The highest grossing movie was the Biblical epic, The Robe, the first venture in CinemaScope. Second highest was From Here To Eternity, which got the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director among it’s eight Oscar wins in 1954.

The sleeper of the year was Roman Holiday, a romantic comedy that saw Audrey Hepburn, a bit actress up until then, win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Lead Role and her great career took off. She also won the Tony that year.

Among the Academy nominations for the picture, Ian McClennan Hunter received two… One for Best Screenplay which he lost to Daniel Taradash for Eternity… The second was for Best Story and that was a winner.

The picture almost never got made because of the rumors that some of the Black Listers might be involved. The name most mentioned was Dalton Trumbo. Frank Capra pulled out of directing it for this reason.

Offered to William Wyler, he accepted with one stipulation, the film had to be shot completely in Rome. He wanted to stay away from HUAC, Joseph McCarthy, and the the witch hunting mentality that prevailed in the US. Thus, Roman Holiday, was the first ‘Hollywood’ film shot in toto outside the US.

The rumor was true. Hunter was a front for his good friend, Dalton Trumbo, a fact Hunter publicly declared when the the List was pretty much a thing of the past. In 1993, long after Trumbo had died, the Academy officially awarded the Oscar to Dalton Trumbo.

Then something happened at the 1957 Academy Awards that pointed to Trumbo once again. The Oscar went to Robert Rich for Best Story. The movie was a little known family picture, The Brave One. And for the only time in Oscar history, no one, either the recipient or a proxy, were present to accept the award. It turned out that Robert Rich was not in the movie business but rather a nephew of one of the producers. Trumbo had pulled off another Oscar while he was on the Black List. This time the Academy managed to give him the Oscar while he was still living. And this was the last year for the Category Best Story.

In 1960 Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger stood up and shouted, ‘Enough’. They both announced that Dalton Trumbo would write screenplays for each of them, Douglas’s Spartacus, Preminger’s Exodus, using his own name. The Hollywood Black List was over.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Brian Dennehey commented how many times he read the Trumbo letters he was still in awe over their wit and their warmth and Trumbo’s skill. And what the man went through to stand up for what he believed in.

And working with Dennehey I realized that he, like Trumbo, also went through a lot for his art and what he believed in. Dennehey was in pain. His back. His knees. While the blocking called for him to remain seated at the desk while he read the letters, he often stood to read one or two. He couldn’t stay seated for fear when he had to stand at the play’s end, he would have a hard time. ‘I might need you to pull me out of the chair, Don,’ he warned me.

He also had terrible night vision after spending so long under the stage lights. His bow consisted of him standing up at the blackout that followed the bow and exit of the narrator and nodding his head to the audience when the bow lights snapped back on. He could not see anything in the darkness that followed. For him to attempt to leave the stage in the black out was out of the question. He needed help.

I stood in the second wing during the bows. When the lights came up for his bow, I closed my eyes and waited until I heard Brian say, ‘Don’. My night vision was better because my eyes hadn’t experience the brightness for a while. Then I would turn on my penlight hoping it would help Brian get orientated, and walk out onto the dark stage, place his hand on my shoulder and we would exit.

I am amazed that Brian Dennehy could perform on stages in such pain. It was one thing to do Trumbo; but he was doing major theater works of O’Neill and Shakespeare also.

Brian Dennehy was not only an excellent actor and good human being, he was also a man, like Dalton Trumbo, who believed deeply in his ideals and his art, and stood up for his beliefs in them.

R.I.P.

DALTON TRUMBO

BRIAN DENNEHY

And that’s a wrap.

There was more I wanted to say but in light of the Virus and now the looting and destruction going on the last four nights just a few miles from my house, looting and rioting caused not by protesters but by out of state white anarchists, I am not feeling up to writing at this time. Stay Safe. Stay angry and vow to stop these killings of blacks by white cops. Peaceful protesting, not arson and looting.

HUAC/HOLLYWOOD

On June 8, 1950, the US Supreme Court’s Conservative Majority voted

to reject considering the1st Amendment Appeal of the Hollywood Ten.

On June 9,1950, Dalton Trumbo began to serve a year’s jail sentence for

Contempt of Congress.

At once, the cries of injustice sounded through out the land.

But one voice agreed with the verdict…Dalton Trumbo

As far as I was concerned, it was a completely just verdict. I had contempt for that Congress

and have had contempt for several since.’

This is an example of the writing of Dalton Trumbo, one of Hollywood’ greatest screenwriter. His wit and wisdom prevails in the stage presentation of TRUMBO that Brian Dennehy brought to the Pantages that I was fortunate enough to work it. Originally this post was to be the 2nd in my experience working with Dennehy, but I got caught up in my researching the backstory of Trumbo and the Black Listing era. Brian warned me. He mentioned how when he first did research for his acting in TRUMBO, he got carried away and just kept reading more and more. I could not stop either.

Here is some skimming over the top of an American era straight out of Orwell’s 1984…with HUAC taking the part of the Thought Police. The novel was published June 8, 1949, the same day Dalton Trumbo started his jail sentence for thinking.

And today history is repeating itself.

The Constitution no longer applies to the politicians who are above all laws.

. . . . . . . . .. . . .

In 1938, the Congress formed the House Un-American Activities Committee, HUAC, to look into Fascist and Communist activity in America. Basically it was Republicans, the majority party, looking into Left Wing activity and overlooking Right Wing activity.

For instance when asked why it never looked into the Klu Klux Klan, the answer was because the KKK was an old American institution.

In the early days there was a brief excursion into possible Communist activities in the movie industry based on a list of questionable facts; but little came of it except unproven innuendos.

Shortly after F.D.R. began to institute his ‘socialist reforms’ the emphasis was on trying to stop the reforms. It tried it to stop the Federal Government from financing work projects for the unemployed and projects that involved the Arts. The grounds for these actions were masqueraded as a search for Communist infiltration.

Again their attempts were futile, but in many cases very funny. For instance one of the members in his ‘interrogation’ into the Federal Theater Project asked an official if he thought Christopher Marlowe, (2/26/1564 – 3/30/1593), was a member of the Communist Party. Another member said he heard that a Mr. Euripides was preaching class warfare.

The shift towards Hollywood began in 1941 when, at the insistence of Walt Disney, the US Senate looked into Reds in the Motion Picture Industry. Disney, who had a reputation of being an obnoxious hands-on-employer, blamed a strike by his animators on Communist influence. He felt there was no way his ‘boys’ would ever have any grievances against him if it wasn’t for of outside influence. The Senate committee’s investigation was ridiculed in the trade papers and realizing they were being used by Disney to go after the union and certain people who had stood up to him in the past, went no further and dropped the investigation.

In 1945, the neoFacist party, America First, began a campaign to remove the ‘alien minded Russian Jews in Hollywood’. Gerald Rankin, ranking member of HUAC declared, ‘One of the most dangerous plots ever instigated for the overthrow of this government has its headquarters in Hollywood…the greatest hotbed of subversive activities in the United States.’

The election of 1946 put the GOP in the majority of both the House and Senate. Walt Disney, spearheaded yet another attack at the unions in what he called the Communist influence in the motion picture industry.

In 1947, heads of many of the major studios, joined Disney in asking Congress to investigate Communist activities in the industry. This action was actually at the suggestion of a Hollywood union.

Two of the Hollywood union locals had been having jurisdictional disputes. One went on a strike that lasted over six months, during which time the head of the other persuaded the studio the strike was result of Communist infiltration.

The call of the studio heads to investigate had a dual purpose. It could ease the antiSemitism against them and it could break the backs of the unions, technical and artistic.

AntiSemitism is a hatred that can never be eased by Law. And as far as breaking the backs of the unions, the antiUnion publicity did help pass the Taft-Hartley Law, which greatly crippled the union movement. But in the end the Black List initiated by the Studios robbed them and the public of many true artists.

HUAC was more than pleased to conduct an investigation. The Motion Picture Industry would provide a much needed public awareness leading up to elections than looking into Public Theater had done. And interviewing movie stars

It opened the hearings with a ‘friendly witness’, Ronald Reagan, president of the Screen Actors Guild and eventually President of the United States, said he suspected Communist tactics in the way some of the members tried to steer things, but he said the union had things well in hand to counter such actions.

The next day was the turn of another ‘friendly witness’ Walt Disney who regergitated his views for the last several years; Hollywood was under the influence of the Communist threat; and he named names, those men who had the gall to stand up to him in the past.

Then the attention turned to the Hollywood liberal block. Many household names refused to say if they ever belonged to any Red organization or if they knew anybody that did. For a while they had strength in numbers.

Actor Sterling Hayden had told the liberal bloc headed by Humphrey Bogart that he had never been a member of the Communist Party. As soon as he was appointed a member of the bloc’s leadership, it was revealed that he had been a member of the party.

The names of people who had been members of the Communist Party was already known to HUAC. For years the LA Police Department had infiltrated the Party, and two of the Party’s Board were undercover LA policemen.

The forcing of people to name names was nothing more than a show and a sly means of harassment by HUAC. As far as uncovering illegal actives, if the undercover police and FBI agents that ‘belonged’ to the Party, why would HUAC think they could find some.

The organized resistance took a hard blow when the truth about Hayden and others was revealed. Bogart and the bloc felt they had been betrayed by Hayden and others and the bloc dissolved. Every man for himself.

Some, like Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, Paul Robeson, and others went to Europe to avoid further harassment and to continue to work.

The Hollywood Ten, who used the 1st Amendment in their defense, instead of recanting or naming names, went to jail for Contempt of Congress.

Families were uprooted. Marriages destroyed. Jane Wyman, Ronald Reagan’s wife at the time of the hearings, said Reagan’s actions both in his testimony and after, destroyed their marriage.

Guilt caused many to resort to the bottle or drugs. No better example was that of Sterling Hayden, actor, author, sailor, and War Hero.

Hayden had been discovered by Hollywood when he was a captain of a yacht. He had just finished his second motion picture when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

Not waiting to be drafted, he enlisted in the Army. He was sent to Scotland for advanced training; where he broke his ankle causing him to be discharged.

He recovered and enlisted in the Marines under the alias, John Hamilton. The Marines sent him to Officer Training School. When he got his commission he was assigned to the fledgling OSS, forerunner of the CIA.

His expertise in captaining a ship earned him the dangerous task of getting through the German blockade in the Adriatic with cargos of arms and ammo to the Yugoslav Resistance. Wanting more direct action he volunteered and parachuted behind enemy lines into Croatia and fought with the resistance. A true War Hero!

His admiration for the Yugoslav partisans he fought with in the war moved him to join the American Communist Party for a brief period in 1946. Called to testify before HUAC in 1951, he admitted belonging to the Party but refused to name any names or answer questions about other members of the party. The FBI threatened him. He was in the midst of a divorce and the FBI told him if he was a hostile witness and if he continued to be a hostile witness and refuse to name names he would lose all custody of his children.

He said he was sorry for ever joining the Communist Party saying it was the stupidest thing had ever done. He gave them names of fellow Hollywood Communists; but those names had already been given by the undercover cops and others, who had already testified. The FBI threats produced nothing new or nothing illegal. The recanting and the naming of names plus his war record saved him from being on the Black List.

But his betrayal haunted him the rest of his life.

When he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer, he neglected any form of treatment. He retreated into the bottle to ease the pain of the cancer but more so the pain of his guilt.

His children said he seemed to welcome his fate.

Hayden died at the age of 70. Suicide, not from commission but from omission.

I was a rat, a stoolie, and the names I named of those close friends were blacklisted and deprived of their livelihood,’ so wrote Hayden in his autobiography, WANDERER.

As for those who testified and named name some used their testimony to gain personal gain. Rumor columnists, Hedda Hopper and Walter Winchell, used it as items in their columns and to declare they were real Americans. Others, like the petty ultra right wing Adolph Menjou, named people he did not like to help resurrect his movie career.

As for those Black Listed some managed to find work through underground sources. Some managed to come back as the Black List began to crumble. Some said the hell with it and found work in other fields.

The Red Scare carried over into TV and radio in 1951. A pamphlet, Red Channels, was published that contained 151 names of entertainers and writers that may have had some ties to Red organizations and expanded to include speaking out against Fascist Spain, the H bomb, anti-Semitism, Jim Crow, civil rights, world peace. In short, the men behind this list said it was a list of well-intended liberals, who allowed their names to be used to support ‘anti-American causes’.

Included were such names as Edward G. Robinson, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Leonard Bernstein, and Pete Seeger.

Seeger, folk singer, songwriter, and Activist was brought before HUAC in 1955. Like the Hollywood Ten, his principles would not allow him to lose his rights under the 1st Amendment. And like the Hollywood Ten, the defense failed and he was cited for Contempt of Congress. He got one year on each of his ten different refusals, to be served consecutively. He appealed on 1st Amendment grounds; but the Appeals Court ruled the trial was conducted in such a way that it had to be overturned. He was never retried.

CBS Radio and TV, fearing the loss of advertising revenue, made performers sign a ‘Loyalty Oath’ stating that they were not a member of any ‘Red tainted’ organization. If anyone refused to sign, their name went on the Black List.

All this went on and yet membership in the Communist Party has never been against the law, anymore than membership in the KKK or the American Nazi Party is against the law. Membership is legal. It is acts that are committed under the blanket of an organization such as lynching, bombing, driving a car into a group of protesters, and the like are illegal. There is also the strong legal argument that states HUAC had no right to this investigation in the first place.

The Committee gained it’s biggest triumph in 1948 when, led by the freshman congressman from California, Richard Nixon, later Vice President/ President/non-President, it convicted Alger Hiss, a prime architect of the United Nations, on perjury charges, saying he lied ten years before when he said he had testified he was never a member of the Communist Party. To this day the original charges of being a Communist and guilty espionage rests only on the say so of a very questionable source.

In 1948, J. Parnell, HUAC chairman during much of these Hollywood hearings, was convicted of conspiracy to defraud in a trial unrelated to HUAC. Parnell was in prison before any of the Hollywood Ten.

HUAC was the precursor of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt. HUAC strengthened the strangle hold that J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, had on America, on American politics, and to augment his personal hunt into people he disliked, like the Kennedys and Martin Luther King.

HUAC, although a Congressional organization, opened the door for a president to fire and or disgrace people who disagreed with him… For a Justice Department to make rules unto itself even to go so far as taking children from their parents and locking the children in cages or giving them to perfect strangers for whatever these strangers wanted the children for…And for the attitude so  prevalent in America today  that certain individuals are above the law.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Dalton Trumbo:

When you look back at that dark time, as I think occasionally you should, it will do no good to search for villains or heroes or saints because there was none, there were only victims.’

There has numerous articles written on this subject along with a good many film documentaries. There are four major motion pictures that deal with those times.

Guilty By Suspicion – DiNiro

The Way We Were – Redford & Streisand

The Front – Woody Allen

Trumbo – Bryan Cranston

That is a wrap for this post, I hope to get back to Dennehy and Trumbo in the next.

Stay Safe

BRIAN DENNEHY

BRIAN DENNEHY

(July 9, 1938 – April 15, 2020)

Brian Dennehy left behind a large and impressive body of TV, movie, and stage work. And to those of us who were lucky enough to have worked with him, he left behind fond memories of a warm and caring man of great talent.

Dennehy had turned 81 in July. Kenny Rogers, singer/actor, who died recently, turned 81 in August. And a little aside…And I turned 81 a couple days after Rogers. Three of the natal class of the late summer of ‘38 who became old vets of show business.

Brian was an actor who always made the TV or movie better for him being in it. He seldom had the lead in film, usually playing as a major costar on one side of the law or the other. He was one of those actors that people recognize right away but always seem to forget his name. ‘I think it is Brain Keith…No. No. Can’t think of it right now but I really liked him in…’

His obituary says he is best remembered playing a sadistic sheriff in the Rambo movies. I would not know because I tried to watch a Rambo movie on TV years ago. I don’t remember if I even finished it. I was not impressed. But there was so many shows he was in that I enjoyed. I guess the two FX’s are my favorites. Or maybe in Presumed Innocent, or maybe Gorky Park, or…Like I said he was a fine actor who brought so much to the work.

His most ambitious body of work was in the 6 TV movies where he played the lead, Jack Reed, a Chicago homicide officer. The first he just played the lead in a two parter based on a popular true crime novel. The next came about because he of his persistence to get out another Jack Reed TV movie. In the last 5 he wore many hats, lead actor, writer, producer. They were all low budget fictional films, but they showed the true picture of Brian Dennehy as he was in real life, a man-left-of-center who stood up for his beliefs.

They also showed the pain Dennehy worked with, the result of his old football injuries. This pain is shown in the details of his blocking especially in A Search For Justice. Every chance he gets he is leaning on something. He seldom is seen walking more than a few feet. Sometimes when he is standing you can see how tightly he is holding on a piece of furniture.

He must have really suffered when he was on stage for a lengthy time.

His film work was overlooked for awards, but he received 6 Emmy nominations for his TV work. His biggest award in TV was a Golden Globe win for his Willy Loman in a taped presentation of his Broadway hit, Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman.’

This performance on Broadway earned him his first Tony Award as Best Actor In A Play. He took it to London where he was awarded the Olivier Award. His second Tony for Best Actor in a Play came a few years later for his James Tyrone Sr. in Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece, A Long Day’s Journey To Night. Both plays were initiated at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, which was home base for Dennehy’s regional theater work. Other regional theaters benefited from his love for the stage. And many of them bestowed awards on him for his work.

Dennehy performed at the Abbey Theater in Dublin playing Hickey in O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh. He played a full season at The Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada’s leading theater. He played in Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, and a double bill of one acts, Beckett’s monologue Krapp’s Last Tape, and O’Neill’s almost monologue Huey.

A few years later he returned to Stratford to play Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night and the lead in Pinter’s The Homecoming, the first Pinter play ever done at Stratford.

He was dubbed by the theater world as the foremost living O’Neill actor. And in 2010 he was inducted in the American Theater Hall of Fame.

His first love was theater, and his income from TV and movies provided the monetary means to work in theater in plays written by the great playwrights. When asked what was his secret in doing such fine work in theater, he replied that walking with giants brought out the best in him.

Dennehy was prolific in his charity work. He contributed both money and time to what he considered to be worthwhile causes.

I worked with him at the Minneapolis Pantages when he played a shortened week’s engagement in the play Trumbo. From the time he walked into the building until he left, he was open, friendly, and went out of his way to show his appreciation of the crew. It was as if we were old friends.

(I have much more to tell about both working the play with him and the play itself; but I will hold off and relate it in the next post: DENNEHY/TRUMBO.)

Working in show business, it is amazing how many people I met. There was always new crews, casts, designers, etc., I came in contact with. For the most part, outside of the area of the business, I had little in common with most of them. Not so with Brian Dennehy.

I knew a little about him before I worked with him. I learned more about him when I worked his short engagement in Minneapolis. But it wasn’t until I did research for this post that I found out how much the two of us have in common outside of show business.

There is the close proximity in age, six weeks difference, and in physical stature; and our lives are filled with so many similarities…

Brian was raised in an East Coast Irish strict Catholic family. Mine family was Midwest German/French strict Catholics.

Nuns were involved in our elementary schooling, Catholic teaching Brothers in our high schools. Reading books of all kinds was a major part of our lives from early on. In college we pursued Liberal Art degrees, Brian…History. Mine… American Studies.

We both enrolled in Catholic colleges that recruited us for their football programs, with the same result, knee injuries in our freshmen year that came back to make our older years a real pain trying to walk. Disgusted, we both dropped out of college our first year.

It was in the Cold War times, and the draft was in place. Not waiting to be called we volunteered Draft. He went in the Marines. I was a paratrooper. Both of us in esprit de corps outfits. When we got out we continued our college pursuits.

Marrying young was something Catholics did in those days. Dennehy married is first wife, he had two, in April of 60. I married my one-and-only in April of 61. We both have five children and have remained very close to all of them. Both of us are proud grandfathers.

Wild in our early years, we had a drinking problem and when we matured we quit drinking…Cold turkey. Not an easy thing to do in show business. We also both avoided drugs which were prevalent in the business.  

Brian was a stock broker in the New York office of Merrill Lynch. I started out as a teletype operator in the St. Paul office of Merrill Lynch. I switched to another firm and got my stock broker’s license. We both hated that work and got out of the business – for good.

We went back to blue collar work, truck driver, laborer, etc., to support our families. Eventually we both got into show business. I became a stagehand, quite by accident, when I was almost 30. Dennehy became a professional actor, after years of amateur acting, when he was almost 40.

Once in the business, neither of us was content to be pigeon-holed. Brian Dennehy expanded into producing, directing, writing, in TV. I was a stagehand in live events and a gaffer in film, as well as a lighting designer, a union officer, and even had a one-act play published in a national magazine and performed in several places. We both preferred working on stage over TV or movies. Especially the works of Shakespeare, O’Neill, Miller, Beckett and other giants.

Like I said, Brian Dennehy and I had a great many things in common over our lifetimes.

Movie goers and TV viewers have lost a fine actor. Theater lovers have lost a great actor. His world has lost someone who made it better for having been born in it. And all of us who had the pleasure of his company, albeit for a short time, are left with fond memories.

Thank You, Mr. Brian Dennehy

And that’s a wrap.

Coming soon: Dennehy/Trumbo

Stay Safe